I remember at the end of the day I am Manipuri…
Meitei to be precise.
I am a Laishram, of the Khuman Clan, belonging to an indigenous people often called the Meitei, or alternatively the Meetei.
I’ve never felt any sort of connection to the people, or the state, but its history has surely captured my mind.
I’ve learnt the language quite aptly called Meiteilon
[Meitei = Meitei People, Lon = Language]
And I carry the Yum-naak (family title) Laishram passed on to me through my father - quite proudly…
BUT I’ve never felt Meitei enough till, well let’s say yesterday.
The Royal Seal of Pakhangba, the first King of Kangla (ancient valley kingdom)who is also the leading diety of the Meitei Pantheon - Half snake, Half Man, he was the arch enemy of my clan - The Laishram.
Manipur, as it is called now, is a conglomerate state that belongs equally to the Meitei tribe, the Kuki tribes, the Khulmi tribes and the Naga tribes.
The valley where my roots are embedded always was and still is the home to the Meitei tribe, who were quite advanced when it came to language, art, culture and tradition. Two or three other tribes, mush lesser in number such as The Kom, The Chiru, The Kabui and The Kach Nagas conglomerate tribes also called Zeliangrong – Zemei, Liangmai, and Rongmei, also co-inhabited the valley since time immemorial.
The Loktak Lake at Dusk - in Moirang at the centre of the valley, this lake once covered the whole valley, and has now silted down to its present size. It is home to the Sangai Deer, and the Fable of Khamba Thoibi (the meitei Romeo & Juliet)
The other 31 tribes or so, who are scattered almost all over the non-valley districts, are either Kuki, Naga, Khulmi or Burmese in categorization.
The Siroi Lily, native only to Manipur, is found exclusively on the peaks of the Siroi Hills, in Ukhrul District, it is also the state flower.
The Tangkhuls are almost exclusively the tribe of the District of Ukhrul, while the Kabui, the Kach Nagas and their sub-tribes almost exclusively populate Tamenglong District.
A Tangkhul Woman, native to Ukhrul District weaving a shawl on handloom.
The District of Churachandpur in the south is mostly Kuki, Hmar, Mizo, and other related Chin tribes in population, while the district of Chandel has a most brilliant diaspora of tribes.
The Kuki celebrating Chapchar Kut (winter harvest festival), with the traditional Cheiraw Dance.
While recently discovered tribes like The Mate (pronounced Maa-tay) are indigenous to Chandel, the district is also home to Naga tribes like The Monsang (earlier a Khulmi tribe) who are native to the area for quite some time now.
An Anal Woman geared up for Harvest, native to Chandel District.
This kind of cross distribution can be seen even in the north, where Senapati District has a huge migrant Kuki population in the Saikul Hill Tract sub-district, originally a stronghold of The Thangal (Naga).
The Loi are another group of Meiteis who however do not practice Vaishnavism and hence have been isolated even though they live in the valley. The Loi are worshippers of a possibly ancient Saivic religion similar to ancient South Indian religion and also are the remaining few practitioners of The Sanamahi religion, the actual indigenous religion of the Meitei.
Manipur is a land rich and diverse in geography. From the rugged soils of the hills to the loamy soils of the valley, agriculture is the major occupation all across the state. Each diverse tribe has their own identifying customs, language and religion.
The state is also home to a huge Afghani Muslim population [the guys especially those who’ve been born of mixed parentage are extremely good looking ;)] who migrated to the region through China several years ago, along with quite a strong Tamizh population in the border towns of Moreh and Tamu. These Tamizh are not from Tamil Nadu but are native to Burma and are probably of the migrant plantation population brought to Burma by the British or ethnic Tamizh who have lived there since Burman times.
Among many of the things that are concerned to be culturally Manipuri, I think the Nupi-Lan (The woman war) fought by Meira Paibees (Torch-light bearers) stands out as something extremely indigenous to the Meitei.
A Lone Meira Paibee, which is usually not the case, with her torch that symbolises her name.
The Raas-Lila form of Meitei Jagoi (Meitei Dance) and the Maiba Jagoi (the Shaman Dance) are dance forms that represent the Meitei quite typically too. A perfect paradox of religions are shown in these forms, where the native Sanamahi meets the adopted Vaishnavic.
Thang-Ta, the indigenous Martial Art form.
The Meitei also claim the discovery of Polo as a game, the only difference being they call it Sagol Kangjei (Horse Hockey). The Cheitharol Kumbaba (Royal Chronicles) also have references to these games.
Sagol Kangjei (Pana form): The Meitei version of Polo.
The state is therefore loaded with cultural references and these insights can go on and on. But it would be wrong of me to end this entry without a mention of the Nupi Keithel, an exclusive women run market right at the centre of the city of Imphal. The institution has run for over 500 years now, and is a living antiquity in itself.
Nupi Keithel, a living antiquity, exclusively run by women.
My chronicles of insights into this fatherland of mine, do not end here, but they end for now right here. Till then…
Asibu Thoina Haraaoba…
Asibu Thoina Haraaoba…
(a traditional song sung by the Maiba [shaman] during Lai Haraaoba – a Sanamahi festival)
Happiness that exceeds this…
Happiness that exceeds this…
Will there ever be.